Monday, April 17, 2006

Bob McKenzie Floats A Bad Trial Balloon

The media and the NHL are deeply interconnected. Both need each other to survive. Both know they need each other to survive. As a result, the NHL plants stories in the media that the media happily and uncritically report and the media rarely report on the "seedy" underside of hockey that the NHL does not want spread.

One example of this is TSN's hockey insider Bob McKenzie. McKenzie has sources inside the NHL. When the NHL wants to float a story as a "trial balloon" that might have a bad responce from the general public, they often send the story to Bob McKenzie. McKenzie now has a "scoop" that he is happy to report and he keeps his sources happy. The NHL got their story spread, but they did it in a way that they have plausable deniability. They were never seriously considering that bad idea, afterall it was reported by Bob McKenzie with no named sources from inside the NHL.

One example of this comes from Bob McKenzie last night. He writes that the NHL is considering changes to playoff overtime. He writes that playoff sudden death overtime might be played four on four in the future - as the current regular season overtime is played.

The NHL should work on a principle of "if it isn't broken don't fix it". Sudden death playoff overtime has lead to some great excitement. Some of my fondest memories come from watching long overtime contests that took five, six and seven periods to decide. So naturally, the NHL should not change it. Its not that simple. The NHL is willing to radically change the game (to "sell its soul") to get a national American network TV deal. The American networks are likely uncertain about covering playoff hockey if any given game might run into four overtimes and disrupt their prime time schedule. This is an awful tradeoff for the diehard hockey fan, but in the NHL's pursuit of the all mighty dollar it might be necessary. So they had Bob McKenzie float this idea as a trial balloon.

Bob McKenzie also dutifully spread the idea that the shootout has been a success. I disagree with this idea as well. Hockey is a team game and it is awful to decide it with an idividual competition (why not decide the game with a relay where players skate around pylons?). Evidence that he lacks an argument to show that the shootout has been a success is that he immediately tries to discredit the counterargument that the shootout has been a success - without offering any evidence of its success.

Bob McKenzie offers an outlet for the NHL to air certain opinions without directly attaching their names to those opinions. That makes him valuable to the NHL. Bob McKenzie gets scoops from the NHL so he dutifully reports them. The scoops make Bob McKenzie a "hockey insider". This relationship is completely contradictory to the idea of a free and independant press. Hockey does not have one in the mainstream of the media.

NOTE: Another NHL insider is making subtle comments about the NHL's campaign against long overtime games. In tonights OLN game Detroit playing against Dallas, Davidson said that he didn't think there would be long overtime games this year because referees will be instructed to continue to call penalties in overtime "as well they should". So the NHL will try to end overtimes quickly using the power play. If that doesn't work, they may be willing to try something more dramatic. All in search of the almighty US network TV deal.

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